I read a piece on CNN this morning about healing emotional pain. The psychologist author made mention of affirmations and he noted that while they can be very effective as part of a healing process it may not be true for everyone. In fact, he wrote, some people can feel worse after using affirmations. How can that be?

The unconscious mind is powerful indeed. One of the things that makes affirmations so wonderful is that when used consistently over time they literally reprogram the unconscious mind by slowly chipping away at less healthy belief patterns and allowing weaker, healthier ones to get stronger. Affirmations support the development of healthier beliefs by reducing resistance (i.e., negative beliefs) that gets in the way of expressing the healthier beliefs more fully.

So how could this not work for everyone? A basic premise of successful affirmation work is that the person has a certain level of self esteem to begin with. Affirmations cannot create a healthier belief system; rather, they strengthen beliefs that are already there. In times of overwhelm many of us lose our sense of the healthier beliefs that we already have and they are overrun, like weeds in a garden, by unhealthy beliefs that are alos there. Affirmations help to clear a path to the positive — they help to pull the weeds, if you will. And in doing so they allow the healthier beliefs to flourish once again.

A person with significant low self esteem may not have enough of a core of healthy beliefs for affirmations to strengthen. Or, more likely, they may not be in touch enough with the strengths that they have for affirmations to build on them. If that is the case then even if affirmations clear some of the weeds there are still too many for the strengths to flourish. This could cause the person to feel like a further failure; and worse than before.

If you find that affirmations seem to not be working for you, and if you know that your self-esteem is significantly compromised — as it might be in an abusive relationship, years of perceived failures, significant depression, or for whatever reason — approach affirmations a bit differently:

  • Make a list of all verifiable positive qualities, experiences, contributions, and the like from the past
  • Spend some time contemplating the list everyday
  • Journal about why each of them is important, to you and to anyone else they affected, even if you find yourself negating the importance — journal anyway

Do this for 30 days and then shift into more traditional affirmation work and see the difference it makes!  See how much easier it will be to align with who you really are.

With Blessings and Gratitude,
from Santa Fe, New Mexico

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